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Avery Commissioners Receive Annual WAMY and NC Highway 19-E Road Improvement Update; Make Four Service Board Appointments to Highlight May Meeting

By Tim Gardner

The Avery County Commissioners received an annual report from WAMY Community Action, made four service board appointments and received a road improvement update to Highway 19-E in the Cranberry Community during their regular monthly meeting May 3.

Starli McDowell, representative with WAMY Community Action, Inc. provided the annual update to the commissioners about the work of the organization. She gave the commissioners various statistics detailing the work of WAMY in the region, noting that WAMY has served 19 households since July 2020 through CARES Act funding, as well as 13 households through AMY Wellness Foundation COVID-19 relief funding. Three households have been assisted during that time through Duke Energy COVID-19 relief funds.  Also, 18 children received full scholarships for 4-H Summer WOW camp to help parents maintain employment through affordable and safe childcare. A total of 261 children in Avery County received educational supplements delivered to their homes through WAMY after being sent home from school because of COVID-19. WAMY provided 199 individuals with Thanksgiving meals and 25 individuals received food boxes from July through December 2020 in collaboration with the Neighbors Feeding Neighbors organization.

McDowell explained how WAMY works to provide residents with a “hand up from their current situation rather than a handout,” as the organization works to partner with families and communities to provide the disadvantaged the necessary support they require to become self-sufficient. McDowell noted the rent moratorium, explaining that even though it protected tenants from eviction, it does not erase that expense and tenants continue to owe back rent payments.  She added that when a moratorium is lifted, tenants will owe hundreds of dollars in unpaid rent and still be facing eviction.

Additionally, McDowell noted that landlords who own rented properties and are not receiving payment during the pandemic, have a severe strain on the property owner and, while still renting the property, are not receiving funds to provide needed maintenance.  She said that some are paying water bills themselves to prevent cutoffs, as a reconnect charge would be their financial responsibility.

Concerning the CARES Act fund distribution, McDowell explained that WAMY had received CARES Act funding in late July 2020 and has assisted residents with their bills in the four-county region of Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties.  McDowell noted that those funds included covering basic needs which included mortgage and rent payments, utilities, heating and fuel, as well as water bills.

McDowell informed the commissioners that WAMY would continue to provide disbursement of remaining CARES Act funds likely for the next year. She added that $70,000 in funding has been distributed since last July, stating that additional funding has been provided by AMY Wellness Foundation and Duke Energy. McDowell encouraged anyone needing assistance to contact her by phone at (828) 773-0814, or online by logging onto www.wamycommunityaction.org.

The commissioners unanimously (5-0) voted to appoint three applicants–Cheryl Buchanan, Mike Lacey and Anna Trivett– to the county’s planning board. The commissioners also appointed Linda Taylor to the Jury Commission. Pursuant to a State of North Carolina General Statute law, a county commission is required to appoint one member to the Jury Commission every two years.

Commissioners also unanimously approved the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council County Funding Plan for $114,931. The plan requires annual approval. The council oversees the local distribution of funds at the county level.

County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. said that initial planning for a 0.25-mile road project to add a right turn lane on Highway 19-E at the intersection with Highway 194 in the Cranberry community is under way.  He said it is designed to improve safety for the traveling public and provide safe passage for pedestrians walking or standing along the corridor.

County Tax Administrator Bruce Daniels told commissioners that the seller’s market is producing stellar statistics as there were 105 qualified sales in the month of April 2021, compared to just 38 qualified sales for the same month one year (2020) ago. Daniels shared that his office personnel have been reviewing the 10-year collections totals, and Daniels reported that those totals are near 99.45 percent rate for 10-year collections and so far this year surpass the 98-percent mark.

Barrier, Jr. informed the commissioners that he expects to receive information soon from High Country Council of Governments if the county has received the ARC matching grant toward broadband internet expansion. He also told the commissioners that initial 2020 Census figures indicate that Avery County’s population increased in 2020 to a total of 18,035 individuals.

County Finance Officer Caleb Hogan presented the following budget amendments, all of which were unanimously approved by commissioners: Adoption of a budget amendment for $560.00 in regard to Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) funding: $29,518 to reflect Help America Vote Act (HAVA): Grant funding awarded to the Avery County Board of Elections to improve administrations of federal elections; $24,500 to reflect the Avery County Sheriff’s Office’s awarding of a NC Department of Public Safety Governor’s Crime Commission Grant to be used for technology improvements; and a budget amendment of $96,614.30 for a settlement agreement for the Department of Social Services.

The commissioners also observed a moment of silence was observed for all those impacted by the shooting last week in Boone that claimed the lives of Watauga County Sheriff’s Department Deputies Sgt. Chris Ward and K-9 Deputy Logan Fox.

The Avery County Commissioners will hold their next regular monthly meeting Monday, June 7, beginning at 3:30 p.m. in their board room at the County Administration Building in Newland.